Monday, March 12, 2018

Opium. A Long History.

From the poppy plant to heroin. A history. This is interesting. When I read this, it makes me wonder if we are really evolving as a society. If so, why are we repeating the same mistakes over and over and never learning from our past? You decide.
Opium is an extract of the exudate derived from seedpods of the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum. The poppy plant was cultivated in the ancient civilisations of Persia, Egypt and Mesopotamia. Archaeological evidence and fossilised poppy seeds suggest that Neanderthal man may have used the opium poppy over thirty thousand years ago. Less controversially, the first known written reference to the poppy appears in a Sumerian text dated around 4,000 BC. The flower was known as hul gil, plant of joy. Papaver somniferum is the only species of Papaver used to produce opium. It is believed to have evolved through centuries of breeding and cultivation from a Mediterranean-growing wild strain, Papaver setigerum.
Papaver somniferum has long been popular in Europe. Fossil remains of poppy-seed cake and poppy-pods have been found in Neolithic Swiss lake-dwellings dating from over 4,000 years ago. Poppy images appear in Egyptian pictography and Roman sculpture. Representations of the Greek and Roman gods of sleep, Hypnos and Somnos, show them wearing or carrying poppies. Throughout Egyptian civilisation, priest-physicians promoted the household use of opium preparations. Such remedies were called "thebacium" after the highly potent poppies grown near the capital city of Thebes. Egyptian pharaohs were entombed with opium artefacts by their side. Opium could also readily be bought on the street-markets of Rome. By the eighth century AD, opium use had spread to Arabia, India and China. The Arabs both used opium and organised its trade. For the Prophet Muhammed had prohibited the use of alcohol, but not hashish or opiates!
Physicians commonly believed that the poppy plant was of divine origin; opium was variously called the Sacred Anchor Of Life, Milk Of Paradise, the Hand Of God, and Destroyer Of Grief.
Indeed opium was probably the world's first authentic antidepressant. Unlike other pain-relieving agents such as ethyl alcohol, ether or the barbiturates, opium doesn't impair sensory perception, the intellect or motor co-ordination. Pain ceases to be threatening, intrusive and distressing; but it can still be sensed and avoided. At lower dosages, opium may be pleasantly stimulating rather than soporific. In the East, opium was typically treated as a social drug; and opium-smoking was a tool for conviviality. Nowadays a life of habitual opioid use evokes images of stupor and mindless oblivion, yet ironically Coleridge coined the word intensify to describe opium's effects on consciousness.
A significant advance in opium-processing occurred in the sixteenth century. In freebase form, the alkaloids found in opium are significantly less soluble in water than in alcohol. Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim (1490-1541), better known as Paracelsus, claimed: "I possess a secret remedy which I call laudanum and which is superior to all other heroic remedies".
By the nineteenth century, vials of laudanum and raw opium were freely available at any English pharmacy or grocery store. Youngsters were introduced to the pleasures of opiates at their mothers' breast. Harassed baby-minders - and overworked parents - found opium-based preparations were a dependable way to keep their kids happy and docile; this was an era before Ritalin.
Opium was viewed as a medicine, not a drug of abuse. Contemporary medical theory didn't allow that one could become addicted to a cure. Writers of distinction certainly consumed opium in copious quantities. Opium induces gentle, subtle, dream-like hallucinations very different from the fierce and unpredictable weirdness of LSD. Opium was also well known in Chinese antiquity. One 10th century poem celebrates how the opium poppy can be made into a drink "fit for Buddha". Ancient peoples either ate parts of the flower or converted them into liquids to drink. But by the 7th century, the Turkish and Islamic cultures of western Asia had discovered that the most powerful medicinal effects could be obtained by igniting and smoking the poppy's congealed juices; and the habit spread.
The widespread use of opium in China dates to tobacco-smoking in pipes introduced by the Dutch from Java in the 17th century. Whereas Indians ordinarily ate opium, the Chinese smoked it. The Chinese mixed Indian opium with tobacco, two products traded by the Dutch. Pipe-smoking was adopted throughout the region. Predictably enough, this resulted in increased opium-smoking, both with and without tobacco. Old encrusted opium-pipes were still valuable because they contained a residue of charcoal and raw opium known as "dross". Dross could be recycled with tobacco plus various adulterants and sold to the poor. Styles of opium pipe reflected the relative wealth or poverty of their owners. Pipes ranged from bejewelled, elaborately ornamented works of art to simple constructions of clay or bamboo.
By the late-1700s, the British East India Company controlled the prime Indian poppy-growing areas on the Ganges plain between Patna and Benares. The company dominated the Asian opium trade; but they did not create it. "Take your opium" was a standard greeting in some Indian cities even before the Europeans arrived. By 1800, however, the British East India Company had a virtual monopoly, controlling supply and setting prices. Dealers, merchants and users alike lovingly assessed the quality and potency of their merchandise with the ardour of a wine connoisseur.
Opium was already heavily used in China as a recreational drug. The Imperial Chinese court had banned its use and importation, but large quantities were still being smuggled into the country. In 1839, the Qing Emperor, Tao Kwang, ordered his minister Lin Tse-hsu to take action. Lin petitioned Queen Victoria for help; but he was ignored. In reaction, the Emperor instructed the confiscation of 20,000 barrels of opium and detained some foreign traders. The British retaliated by attacking the port-city of Canton.
Thus began the First Opium War, launched by the biggest, richest and perhaps most aggressive drug cartel the world has ever known, the British Empire. The Chinese were defeated. They were forced to sign the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842. The British required that the opium trade be allowed to continue; that the Chinese pay a large settlement and open five new ports to foreign trade; and that China cede Hong Kong to Britain.
Peace didn't last. The Second Opium War began and ended in 1856 over western demands that opium markets be expanded. The Chinese were again defeated. In 1858, by the Treaty of Tientsin, opium importation to China was formally legalised. God-fearing British traders claimed that the hard-working Chinese were entitled to "a harmless luxury"; the opium trade in less respectable hands would be taken over by "desperadoes, pirates and marauders". Soon opium poured into China in unprecedented quantities. By the end of the nineteenth century, it has been estimated that over a quarter of the adult male Chinese population were addicted.
In North America, the initial history of Papaver somniferum was somewhat more peaceful. During the first few centuries of European settlement, opium poppies were widely cultivated. Early settlers dissolved the resin in whisky to relieve coughs, aches and pains.
The plant had further uses. Papaver somniferum produces lots of small black seeds. Poppy-seeds are an ingredient of typical bird-seed and a common garnish on rolls. Poppy-seeds can also be ground into flour; used in salad-dressings; added to sauces as flavouring or thickening-agents; and the oil can be expressed and used in cooking. Poppy-heads are infused to make a traditional sedative drink.
Many distinguished early Americans grew Papaver somniferum. Rightly or wrongly, they would today be treated as felons. Thomas Jefferson cultivated opium poppies at his garden in Monticello. The seeds from its plants, including the poppies, were sold at the gift-shop of Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants until 1991 - when a drug-bust at the nearby University of Virginia panicked the Board of Directors into ripping up the plants and burning the seeds. The cultivation of Papaver somniferum is banned in the USA under the Opium Poppy Control Act of 1942. Amateur horticulturists, however, continue to value the beautiful red, yellow and white flowers as adornments to their gardens.
Until the nineteenth century, the only opioids used medicinally or recreationally took the form of crude opium. The opioid analgesics are of inestimable value because they reduce or abolish pain without causing a loss of consciousness. They also relieve coughs, spasms, fevers and diarrhea.
Morphine was first isolated from opium in 1805 by a German pharmacist, Wilhelm Sertürner. Sertürner described it as the Principium Somniferum. He named it morphium - after Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams. Today morphine is isolated from opium in substantially larger quantities - over 1000 tons per year - although most commercial opium is converted into codeine by methylation. On the illicit market, opium gum is filtered into morphine base and then synthesized into heroin.
Doctors had long hunted for effective ways to administer drugs without ingesting them. Taken orally, opium is liable to cause unpleasant gastric side-effects. The development of the hypodermic syringe in the mid-nineteenth century allowed the injection of pure morphine. Both in Europe and America, members of high society and middle-class professionals alike would jack up daily; poor folk couldn't afford to inject drugs. Morphinism became rampant in the USA after its extensive use by injured soldiers on both sides of the Civil War. In late nineteenth-century America, opiates were cheap, legal and abundant. In the judgement of one historian, America became "a dope fiend's paradise". Moreover it was believed that injecting morphine wasn't addictive. Quitting habitual opium use can cause malaise, flu-like symptoms, and depression; morphine seemed an excellent cure. In China, for instance, early twentieth century missionaries handed out anti-opium remedies in such profusion that the pills became known as "Jesus Opium"; their active ingredient was morphine.
Soldiers, missionaries and patent-medicine salesmen were not alone in eulogising its properties. Early optimism about morphine's non-addictive nature proved sadly misplaced. Women in particular came to be seen as especially vulnerable to opiate dependence. Racist stereotypes, rampant xenophobia and lurid images of white slave-traders abounded too. In the 1850s and 1860s, tens of thousands of Chinese had emigrated to the USA to help build the western railroads and work the California mines. Opium-smoking was an integral part of Chinese culture; and its effects offered a merciful relief from dirty and backbreaking work. But the medical tide was turning. Dr Hamilton Wright, newly appointed US opium commissioner, blamed "the Chinese vice" for corrupting the nation's youth.
So the search began for a powerful non-addictive alternative to opium and morphine. In 1874, English pharmacist C.R. Alder Wright had boiled morphine and acetic acid to produce diacetylmorphine, C17H17NO (C2H3O2)2. Diacetylmorphine was synthesized and marketed commercially by the German pharmaceutical giant, Bayer. In 1898, Bayer launched the best-selling drug-brand of all time, Heroin.
In 1898, the Bayer pharmaceutical company began an aggressive marketing campaign to sell its commercial preparation of Heroin. That was the name they gave to their formulation of diacetylmorphine, or the product of boiling morphine for several hours. Heroin was heavily promoted as being non-addicting, and therefore an excellent treatment for morphine addiction. Bronchitis, tuberculosis and other cough-inducing illnesses were also treated with Heroin. In 1906, the American Medical Association approved Heroin for general use, and recommended that it be used in place of morphine.
This free rein soon resulted in a population of 200,000 heroin addicts in New York City. In 1914, the Harrison Narcotics Act was passed that was an attempt to stop abuse of cocaine, heroin and cannabis. Under this law, it became illegal to own, use or be addicted to illicitly-obtained narcotics. Doctors and pharmacists were required to register and pay a tax on all prescriptions. This was the beginning of arrests for drug abuse. In some areas, the majority of prisoners in federal facilities would be incarcerated there on drug charges.
In 1924, the deputy commissioner of the New York Police reported that 94% of all crimes were being committed by heroin addicts. Soon after, the drug was outlawed for both medical and illicit use. The League of Nations followed with more restrictions, and manufacture and export of heroin began to be controlled.
These regulations and bans just moved heroin production from factories in Europe to clandestine labs in China. Trafficking channels to Europe and the US began to be controlled by organized crime in Europe, resulting in the “French Connection”: the importing of unrefined heroin to Marseille, France, where it went through its final refinement before being shipped to Northeastern US cities and Europe.
During World War II, heroin supplies into the US were restricted due to increased security. Many American addicts were no longer able to get the drug and the numbers of addicts fell. But this new pattern only lasted until the end of World War II. Then the crime syndicates went back into business. Not too long after that, America’s participation in conflicts in Southeast Asia put millions of GIs right in the crosshairs of heroin manufacturers and traffickers. During World War II. Heroin traffic was nearly eliminated due to various trade disruptions caused by the war. Japan’s war with China cut many normal trade distribution routes, and the war had generally interrupted the traffic of opium. After the war the mafia took advantage of the postwar Italian government and set up heroin processing labs in Sicily. That city’s location along the historic opium route Westward into Europe and eventually the United States was also a factor. The victory of the communists in the civil war in China effectively ended international opium production the late 1940’s.
The shifting of heroin manufacture from Turkey to Southeast Asia came as a result of complicated political plays that occurred in the wake of World War II. When the dust settled, American and European crime syndicates transferred their supplier routes to the Golden Triangle - where Burma (now Myanmar), Thailand and Laos converged.
During the 1960’s and early 70’s America’s involvement in the Vietnam War had unexpected consequences. Thousands of U.S. Army personnel returned home with debilitating opiate habits due to the accessibility of the drug in Southeast Asia. In the next twenty years, nearly four million American service men and women would be stationed in this area or nearby. This would be one of the influences that would lead to American heroin addiction rates that were of a whole new order of magnitude.
Chinese Nationalists settled near the Sino-Burmese border and Hmong tribesman in Laos. This helped develop the infamous ‘Golden Triangle’ production region, which supplied about one-third of heroin consumed in the U.S. after the withdrawal in 1973. But during the war, there was plenty of opium and heroin in Vietnam for both the population and the United States military personnel.
Patrick L. is a Vietnam War veteran. “I started using dope over there; nearly everyone in my company was. The availability of the drug was staggering. You could just buy it by the roadside. There was every kind of drug and alcohol for sale: Grass, pills of every kind and harder drugs. In several provinces, you could buy pure, liquid opium in a large vial for about $10. We just used to dip cigarettes and joints in it. This was more than you could use in a month, even if you had a serious habit, which I eventually did.”
During leave, when he came home, he usually managed to bring back enough vials to keep his habit fed. Many soldiers brought back enough supplies to feed their habits, but also to go into business as drug dealers. The stuff on the street in the United States was extremely weak, compared to what they were using over there.
Later research, which tested every American soldier in Vietnam for heroin addiction, would reveal that 40 percent of servicemen had tried heroin and nearly 20 percent were addicted. In other words, HEROIN caused addiction in HALF OF THE PEOPLE WHO TRIED IT. The discovery shocked the American public and led to a flurry of activity in Washington, which included President Richard Nixon announcing the creation of a new office called The Special Action Office of Drug Abuse Prevention.

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